Ford's CEO is bullish on China. Here's why

Ford CEO: Auto & mobility focus
Ford CEO: Auto & mobility focus
Record year for autos?
Record year for autos?
These automakers drove US sales to a record year
These automakers drove US sales to a record year

After a tough opening day of 2016 for the stock market, at least one automaker says it's not worried about the year.

The business community has been on edge over the past year, from slowing Chinese economic growth and uncertainty around Federal Reserve policy to technological disruption from mighty Silicon Valley unicorns. But none of that bothers Mark Fields, president and chief executive officer of Ford, who spoke to CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Tuesday.

"It's been a very strong year for us," Fields said.

Ford reported an 8 percent year-over-year gain in sales in December, topping off a year that saw sales grow 5 percent overall. In doing so, it joined brands like Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan, which all posted double-digit growth in December.

Interior dash of a Ford Edge.
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U.S. oil prices plummeted almost 40 percent over the past year, helping drivers save at the pump. Indeed, 2015 was a record-setting year for automobile sales, with no signs of slowing down, despite a changing economic landscape.

Business leaders like Citi's investment chief have posited that China is the biggest concern in 2016. But Fields said he's still bullish on the China market.

"You have to put China in perspective," Fields said. "They're transitioning from an economy that's been investment and industry led, to one that's consumption led. As they go through that transition, there's going to be some volatility. There's going to be some ups and downs. When you look at the part of their GDP that's services and consumption, that actually is growing. That, I think, is a good sign."

With interest rates rising in response to a December Federal Reserve move, borrowers might be wondering if financing for car loans and leases will tighten. But Fields said a strengthening economy is the main element he's watching.

Will the Fed kill the auto sales boom?
Will the Fed kill the auto sales boom?

"You look at the health of the labor market, wage and income growth, even the latest interest rate rise by the Federal Reserve," Fields said. "It's very gradual, but that's also an indication that the economy is doing well."

Combined with an inventory of cars that's older than ever, and Fields said he's expecting consumers to upgrade their pickup trucks soon. And those upgrades are increasingly high tech. Ford and competitors like GM have taken on partnerships with start-ups and tech companies, debuting a slew of new products.

In particular, Ford debuted updates to its Sync system that will allow cars to communicate with drones and with "smart home" devices like Amazon Echo. Fields said consumers have upped the ante on automakers, demanding not only top-notch safety and fuel efficiency but also technology.

"That's why we're investing so heavily in that; growing our Sync business, as well as other technological enablers in our vehicles," Fields said. "Consumers are willing to pay for that."

Shares of Ford declined almost 1.8 percent Tuesday.